“The best part of my job,” Thomas says, “is helping people.”
Thomas has never had trouble excelling at anything he puts his mind to, but he has struggled in the past to find true purpose.
That all changed, however, when he first walked through the doors of Our Place some 15 years ago.
The building was still under construction, the very first housing residents were just moving in, but Thomas felt an immediate connection and sense of belonging.
“I knew I could help make a difference here,” he says. “Suddenly my past struggles and challenges became strengths that I could share.”
Born in Nelson, BC, Thomas describes his childhood as “not the greatest.” His father struggled with alcohol addiction, and his parents divorced shortly after he was born.
Thomas’s father died from an alcohol-related injury at 46, which was devastating for 11-year-old Thomas who had only met him for the first time 6 months earlier.
Raised by a single mom, Thomas had his first drink, tequila, when he was very young. And while the experience made him “turn green whenever anyone mentioned tequila” it also started him down a path to his own troubles with alcohol.
A rebellious youth, he drank and dabbled in drugs, and eventually dropped out of school following Grade 10.
“I was fed up with school.” He pauses. “But I sometimes wish that I had stayed and finished my education.”
At 18, he began to have a better understanding of his mother’s life and past. This brought them closer, but also spiralled Thomas deeper into his own addiction.
He left Nelson for Vancouver where his drinking increased as did his experimentation with street drugs.
“Luckily, I have a big fear of needles,” he says.
Thomas worked a variety of labour intensive jobs in construction, and travelled back and forth between other cities and Nelson.
“But I always struggled in Nelson,” he says. “I never got in as much trouble elsewhere as I did in my hometown.”
He travelled to Edmonton for a couple of years, then Campbell River and Courtenay, but always returned to Nelson, and started the cycle again.
“I thought I’d seen a lot of bottoms,” he says. “And I always seemed to pull myself back out. I would always say ‘I’m going to quit’, but it was always the same. I would get back into drinking and drugs.”
In 2000, Thomas experienced what he calls “his real bottom.”
“I really didn’t like where I was,” he says. “The drinking, the drugging, the life struggles. A lot of pain from my life experiences and the pain I caused my loved ones.”
Thomas decided that he had had enough and needed to make a change. He admitted himself into the Comox Valley Recovery Centre, an abstinence program based on the twelve-step model.
However, the program was only 30 days. Thomas knew that wasn’t enough time for him, and he would return to his addiction upon release.
“I knew it,” he says. “I had tried a treatment program in ‘94 and left within a day.”
He transferred to Miracle Valley, a 172-bed residential rehabilitation centre near Mission, BC, which closed in 2010.
“And that’s where I found my miracle,” he says. “I finally realized that I was sick and tired of being sick and tired.”
After his time at Miracle Valley, Thomas moved to Foundation House, a second-stage recovery home in Victoria.
Thomas returned to the work force, and at 7 years sober fell in love and got married to Darlene. Life was looking up until a workplace injury set him back. The company failed to support him in his claim for disability, and he ended up jobless.
Despite this obstacle, Thomas maintained his sobriety.
Then a friend from Foundation House told Thomas that Our Place was looking for good people.
Thomas visited and immediately, “It was like I was meant to be there.”
Thomas was hired as desk security in the front lobby, a job that entails working with staff, donors, volunteers, housing clients, police and ambulance, and those vulnerable individuals who need Our Place’s services.
He sees people on their best days and on their very worst, but he feels like he’s making a difference every single day.
“The best part of my job,” he says, “is helping people.”
“At my old job, my work was making millions for the company, but at Our Place, I feel like I’m making millions in my heart.”